SOCHI, Russia — If the NHL doesn’t want its players going to the next Winter Games in South Korea in 2018, the International Olympic Committee wants to know soon.
“We said that right after Sochi we should come together and decide yes or no,” said Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation and an IOC executive board member. “If they decide not to come we have to find an alternative to the tournament so we have to know, especially for Canada and the US.”
Though the NHL has had its players in the Games ever since 1998, their participation in Sochi wasn’t made certain until last July. Given the prospect of another midseason shutdown and a long transoceanic trip to Pyeongchang, the league may prefer to revive the World Cup on a biennial basis since it could determine the date and control revenues, costs, and scheduling.
If that happens, the IOC and IIHF want to know sooner rather than later since the Americans and Canadians would have to assemble players from multiple sources.
“As you know, it is easier for the European teams to select a national team to play but for Canada and the United States they do not have a [domestic] league to select players from,” said Fasel. “So to be fair to Canada and the US, they have to know whether they are coming and whether they have to prepare a special team to go to Korea.”
Meanwhile, Philadelphia owner Ed Snider thinks the choice of Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis over Flyers captain Claude Giroux to replace injured Steve Stamkos on Team Canada smacks of favoritism. “It’s a farce,” Snider told the Philadelphia Daily News. “[Giroux’s] one of the best players in the league. It’s ridiculous. He’s better than half the guys in the league.”
St. Louis is Stamkos’s Lightning linemate. Steve Yzerman is both the Tampa Bay general manager and Team Canada’s executive director and the man who left St. Louis off the team in the first place.
Stricter testing here
Sochi will feature the toughest drug testing in Winter Games history with 2,453 total, 1,269 of them in pre-competition. That’s up from 2,149 in Vancouver four years ago with a 57 percent increase in pre-competition. The 1,184 post-competition tests will focus on “higher risk” sports such as cross-country skiing and biathlon as well as ice hockey.
Of the total, 1,944 will be urine tests and 509 blood. This time the samples will be kept for potential retesting for 10 years, up from the present eight.
Doing the honors
The procession of 88 flagbearers in Friday’s Opening Ceremony included a number of familiar or legendary faces, most notably Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who bore the Slovakian banner at a record height.
Others were Alpine skiers Aksel Lund Svindal (Norway), Maria Hoefl-Riesch (Germany), Tina Weirather (Liechtenstein), and Ivica Kostelic (Croatia), figure skater Javier Fernandez (Spain), 40-year-old luger Armin Zoeggeler (Italy), and hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser (Canada). Todd Lodwick, the six-time Olympian, was the first Nordic combined athlete to hoist the Stars and Stripes since Rolf Monson in 1936. Bobsled pilot Alexander Zubkov was the Russian flagbearer. Freestyle skier Julia Marino of Winchester, Mass., carried the flag for Paraguay as her birth country’s only participant.
Drop the puck
The US women’s hockey team opens group play early Saturday morning against Finland, which won the Four Nations Cup last fall in Lake Placid, N.Y., behind goalie Noora Raty. ‘‘She’s one of the best goaltenders in the world,’’ said American defenseman Megan Bozek, Raty’s roommate and teammate at the University of Minnesota. Raty, 24, already has two Olympics and back-to-back NCAA championships behind her. Because of a format change instituted to make the tournament more competitive, the Americans’ first opponent is a favorite to reach the podium. Raty made 58 saves against the US team in the Four Nations Cup victory. ‘‘I don’t think we’ll make that mistake again, knowing what Finland can do to us,’’ said US forward Amanda Kessel. Jesse Vetter will start in net for the Americans . . . Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu decided his surgically repaired right ankle has not healed enough to allow him to play for Finland. He was likely to be named team captain. Koivu had surgery after fracturing his right ankle while blocking a shot Jan. 4 and has sat out the past 15 games for Minnesota. Finland also will be without Valtteri Filppula. The Lightning center suffered a nondisplaced right ankle fracture in Thursday’s game against Toronto . . . Sweden added the Washington Capitals’ Marcus Johansson to its roster to replace injured center Henrik Sedin, and Slovakia named Branko Radivojevic to replace injured forward Marian Gaborik.
Nyman gets nod
Steven Nyman earned the fourth and final spot on the US men’s downhill team, edging out Erik Fisher and Jared Goldberg with a solid training run Friday in Krasnaya Polyana. He joins Travis Ganong, Marco Sullivan, and Bode Miller . . . Quickly turning into an unexpected medal contender, Matthias Mayer of Austria led the second downhill training session. Mayer clocked 2 minutes, 6.51 seconds, slightly quicker than Miller’s leading time Thursday as the course was harder and a bit faster. Miller was sixth, 0.64 seconds behind. A final training session is scheduled for Saturday, with the race Sunday to open the medal events for Alpine skiing . . . Fabienne Suter of Switzerland led the second women’s downhill training session, and American teammates Stacey Cook and Julia Mancuso placed sixth and 10th, respectively. The final jump was shaved down to a minor bump after Thursday’s opening session was delayed and then re-run because the jump was deemed too high . . . American freestyle skiier Heidi Kloser had to pull out of the Games after tearing ligaments in her right knee and breaking her femur during a training run prior to moguls qualifying Thursday.
US team on thin ice
Hoping to climb out of a huge hole, the United States is turning to its world champions in the team figure skating competition. Meryl Davis and Charlie White will skate in the short dance team on Saturday, and Ashley Wagner will then skate in the women’s short program for a US team that’s in seventh place. Only five teams advance to the free skate after Saturday’s cutdown. Following the cutdown, the pairs’ free skate will be held; the American duo of Maria Castelli and Simon Shnapir were fifth in Thursday’s short program and are expected to go in the free skate. The team competition ends Sunday with the long programs in men’s, women’s, and dance. National runner-up Jason Brown will replace Jeremy Abbott after the four-time US champ finished seventh in the men’s short program . . . Poland’s Kamil Stoch showed why he’s a strong favorite in ski jumping, posting two firsts and a second-place finish in three training runs for Sunday night’s individual normal hill final. Switzerland’s Simon Amman, bidding to win a record fifth Olympic gold, tied for sixth . . . Austrian snowboarder Adrian Krainer withdrew from the Olympics after suffering an inch-long cut on his chin and hurting his heels during training on the rugged slopestyle course at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park . . . Britain’s Craig Pickering withdrew from the bobsled competition with a back injury. Pickering was also forced to miss the London Olympics with a back injury after being named to Britain’s track team.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.